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I Cruised on a Cruise Ship Designed in The 1990s (Norwegian Sun, Full Review)

When cruise lines advertise their cruises they’ll always show you the newest and the biggest ships.

The average lifespan on a cruise ship is close to 30 years – and almost all major cruise lines have cruise ships that are well over 20 years old.

I usually cruise on new, big cruise ships but when I saw a cheap price for a cruise on an older ship cruising with Norwegian Cruise Line, I knew I had to give it a go.

I cruised on a very similar ship when I was a child, but then the ship was relatively new. At the time I thought it was incredible, but I did wonder how a ship of this age and size would be able to compete with newer ships in the Norwegian fleet.

I knew that the ship wouldn’t have things like go-karts or virtual reality games, but I also suspected that the entertainment, food and service would also be different on a 1990’s ship like this.

I hoped that it wouldn’t be worse but as the cruise I took was half the price of a cruise on one of the newest ships – I figured there must be some reason for this!

I hoped that older ships were not rockier as I do get seasick.

We did have some bad weather on this cruise and the sick bags did come out later in the voyage – but luckily I didn’t need to use them!

I was hoping to book another cruise after this on an even older cruise ship, but that all rested on how much I enjoyed this one. 

We Embarked in Lisbon – It Was Raining!

It was pouring with rain in Lisbon when we embarked the ship which was ironically called the Norwegian Sun!

Embarkation was really fast and that was probably helped by the fact that the ship holds a maximum of 1900 people.

The current biggest cruise ship in the world holds 7000 guests so under 2000 is a relatively small ship. 

Usually, when I get on a ship the first thing I do is explore, but as I was drenched through from the rain I found some public toilets onboard to get changed in.

I did my best to dry my hair under the hand dryer!

It actually worked surprisingly well and although I got lots of comments about getting bacteria on my head, I’d do it again. It was better than going to lunch looking like I’d been swimming in my clothes!

On cruises, your suitcases are taken from you at the port and they arrive later in your cabin. Luckily, I had made sure that I took a change of clothes out of my suitcase and put it into my bag before I handed it over. 

My Initial Impressions of the Norwegian Sun

Once I was changed I headed for the atrium in the middle of the ship. This is one area that has remained largely unchanged since the ship was launched.

Because of the way that cruise ships are made, they can’t really make any big structural changes later on. Cruise ships are built in chunks, usually upside down, and then they are all joined together.

The whole process takes a couple of years and they have to plan everything – right down to where things like TV screens will be so that the structure can support the weight. 

I’m happy to report that Norwegian had changed the carpet from the brightly coloured one that they originally had in the atrium.

The new design is much more subtle, and I thought it looked much better.

Back in the 2000s (or what we in the UK call the noughties) bright colours were everywhere on cruise ships.

It wasn’t uncommon to have red chairs, yellow carpets and green walls! I like to think that the colourful carpets and chairs are still living their life somewhere...

The atrium area really is the heart of the ship and it stretches right the way from deck 3 up to the pool deck on deck 12.

There was the entrance to one of the main dining rooms, the reception, a little Starbucks, a bar, and desks with people trying to sell “CruiseNext” certificates and speciality meals.

I didn’t plan on spending much, if anything, onboard this cruise!

When I booked the cruise I bought a cruise fare that included what Norwegian call ‘Free At Sea.’

This meant that I had a drinks package and a couple of speciality restaurant meals included that usually cost extra. This was in addition to all of the normal included food.

I paid £149 which is around $184 for my “Free At Sea” package.

This was for 8 days, so all I had to do was drink and eat £19 worth in a day to get my money’s worth – I thought I could easily do that!

We headed to one of the big main dining rooms for lunch. On most cruises, you’ll find that the ship has a main dining room or two where the food is all included.

I usually eat most of my meals here, because I’ve already paid for this food and there’s no way I can eat it all, as much as I try!

There’s normally at least one buffet too, where the food is included – along with other places like poolside grills or pizzerias. 

A very common complaint when it comes to cruising on big, new cruise ships is that you often have to wait a while for a table or you might have to be pre-booked.

We didn’t have to do anything like that on the Norwegian Sun, and it was brilliant.

We walked into the restaurant and were seated right away, which was what happened every time we went into a restaurant onboard We never had to queue up at all, and the restaurants always seemed quiet. 

One thing that I loved about cruising with Norwegian when I was a child was that there weren’t any set dining times or formal nights.

On a lot of cruises, you’ll be assigned either early or late dining and your table is available for you at that time. With Norwegian, you just dine when you’re hungry -and I love that!

This “Freestyle dining” is exactly the same on all of the Norwegian ships – from the newest, the Norwegian Prima, to the oldest, the Norwegian Spirit. 

The restaurant itself had windows on two sides and it felt bright and modern. I don’t think there’s any way you’d know from this restaurant that this ship was designed in the 90s.

There were a few areas on the ship, and a few things that definitely reminded me of the ship’s age, but this wasn’t one of them. 

On the newer, bigger cruise ships you’ll often find that although the ship is much bigger, each person has less outside space on the main decks.

If you have a look at a big, new cruise ship, there are decks and decks of extra cabins – but they can’t really make the top of the ship 5 times bigger.

It was immediately obvious to us just how much outside space the Norwegian Sun had.

We also found a full promenade deck too which was fantastic – we would often wander around the deck to get in a few extra steps. 3.5 laps is a mile, and in my opinion, it sure beats walking on a treadmill!

It’s quite rare to find full promenade decks on more modern cruise ships. On some of the newer Norwegian ships, they do have bars and restaurants out here, which I really like.

On many modern ships, they barely have a promenade deck at all.

This ship ticks a lot of my boxes, but I had wondered if that came at the cost of missing out on the entertainment I know and love from the newer, bigger Norwegian ships.

I saw “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” on the Norwegian Epic – and it was so good I went back and saw it again the next night!

(I did wait outside until the last moment so I wasn’t taking a seat from anybody who hadn’t seen it before, but it was fantastic.)

I knew though that Norwegian didn’t have any of their Broadway-style shows on the older ships, which I always thought was a shame. 

After grabbing a bite to eat in the buffet for dinner we checked out the Spinnaker lounge at the top of the ship on deck 12. It’s a huge lounge with windows on three sides and lots and lots of comfy seats.

We spent quite a bit of time In The Spinnaker Lounge as the cruise went on. They would do karaoke here and hold a lot of meetings and solo meet-ups.

Norwegian are always one of my top picks when it comes to solo cruising. They have some amazing solo cabins and solo-specific lounges on their newer ships.

Even on this older ship, it was still nice to see lots of events held for solos.

Our first full day onboard was a sea day. I always love this at the start of a cruise, it gives you a chance to properly explore and get into a routine.

Each night on a cruise you’ll get a daily schedule – either as a paper sheet in your cabin like we did on this cruise, or some cruise lines just upload it to the app so you can see it on your phone.

You don’t need to pay for the cruise line Wi-Fi to use Norwegian’s App. For further details about this, check out this post:

The daily schedule looked much busier than it does on a lot of other cruise lines. But quite a few of the activities were things like spa seminars or art auctions that I have no interest in.

The Muster Drill

For some reason, the safety drill (or “Muster Drill”) on this cruise was back to the pre-pandemic type.

Everybody stands around on the promenade deck at the same time and listens to safety information for about 20 minutes.

During the pandemic, most cruise lines moved to a Muster Drill where you watch the information on your TV or phone. You then go to your muster station to check in with the crew so they know you have completed the drill.

It was really weird to be back standing there in lines, but thankfully it wasn’t hot.

It’s not uncommon for people to faint at muster drills on cruises when the weather’s really warm. 

Our cruise was departing from Portugal and heading to the Canary Islands and Gibraltar. Our itinerary included Madeira, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Gibraltar.

Gambling

Whenever I cruise I gamble $10 in the casino and I’m sad to say that this cruise broke my winning streak!

The casino itself was a fair size but it was so much quieter than I’ve seen the casino on other cruise lines like Carnival. That may have been to do with the mix of nationalities on our cruise.

Guests can smoke in the casino on most cruise ships and the Norwegian Sun is no exception to that.

Usually on cruises smoking is only allowed in smoking areas, and sometimes these are only outside, you’re only meant to smoke when you are ‘actively playing’ a game in the casino.

I suppose allowing smoking is a good way for the casino to make more money by encouraging smokers to stay there.

I don’t think they made much during our cruise though because the staff were often just waiting for people to play at the tables.

The staff in the casino were lovely – as were all of the crew members that we met onboard the ship. It definitely felt as though the crew had more time to chat than they do on the bigger ships.

Usually, you have to pay more for a luxury cruise to get a higher staff-to-passenger ratio, but I think that because this ship was smaller, and it definitely wasn’t full, we basically had a premium service without paying a luxury price.

Entertainment

Gameshows, Karaoke, Trivia and Theatres

Also on the daily schedule were game shows and trivia, I gave trivia a go a couple of times and it was usually in a bar called the Bliss Lounge.

To play trivia you just pick up an answer sheet and a pencil. I don’t think there were any prizes for trivia – or at least I didn’t see any!

The Bliss Lounge was in the middle of the ship without much natural light which was a bit odd. Sometimes it would be really really dark in there and we even had to use my phone’s torch to see the drinks menu!

We went to karaoke and tried to go to “Deal or No Deal” but the show was cancelled because there weren’t enough people buying tickets. Everybody was refunded and sent on their way.

I guess that is one of the downsides of cruising on a smaller ship and one which is sailing at less than full capacity.

The theatre was a similar size to one that you’d find on a bigger cruise ship it just meant that half the seats would be empty for most of the shows.

It was great being able to walk into the theatre with two minutes to spare and still get a good seat.

Sometimes on the newer bigger ships you really have to be there 20 or even 30 minutes before showtime if you want a seat that hasn’t got a pole obstructing it or something blocking the view.

They did have bar service in the theatre too which was always fast and I liked it!

I did miss the big Broadway-style shows that Norwegian are famous for.

The quality of the performances put on by the show team were very good. Shows were around 45 minutes long and featured lots of singing, dancing and cool costumes.

They also had some other acts, like a lady playing the electric violin, a magician, and a Frank Sinatra tribute act.

Food Choice Onboard

Sea days are mostly about eating and we ate a LOT onboard.

The food quality was always really good, there weren’t many vegetarian options but I’ve grown to expect that from US cruise lines.

The portion sizes in the main dining room were absolutely huge!

I don’t know if I ever finished a meal. I don’t usually like leaving food, but it does get mushed up and released into the sea as fish food – so at least somebody is enjoying my leftovers! 

The buffet did get quite busy and sometimes we couldn’t get a seat, so would take food back to our cabin.

For our first day in port, we didn’t fancy the busy buffet so we decided to order room service. The thing that seemed really weird to me was that there was no bread at all on the menu!

I recently got a comment on my YouTube channel that said:

‘I’ve never seen a millennial eat so much gluten!’

….and I’m wearing that like a badge of honour. I am fuelled by bread and I love it!

As the cruise went on I would go to the late-night buffet, grab my breakfast bread and bring it back to my cabin.

I did have to walk past the gym each time with my bread, which made me laugh – this was the only time I went near the gym during this cruise!

The gym is free to use – and usually looked as empty as the rest of the ship. 

Port Stops

Our first stop was Madeira which is an island owned by Portugal.

Having come from the UK where during the winter it’s cold and dark most of the time, it was amazing to see the blue skies.

I didn’t plan on doing excursions on this cruise and most of the places that we visited were easy to wander around by ourselves. We were docked with a Saga and a TUI cruise ship.

TUI are a German cruise line, not to be confused with the British “Marella” which is owned by a company called TUI.

The German “TUI” isn’t the most inventive with its cruise ship names – they call them Mein Schiff 1 2 3 4 5 and 6.

They have three new ships coming soon called – you guessed it – Mein Schiff 7 8 and 9! 

Madeira is actually closer to Africa than it is to Europe which explains the warm weather. It’s always funny to see the locals in their coats and hats when the weather is what we in England would consider the best summer day.

We watched the sail away from Madeira from the top deck as we had an inside cabin and this was something that we would do most days.

The weather was similar on our next two stops in Gran Canaria and Las Palma – and it was here that I found out why the Islands are called the Canary Islands.

You might assume it’s to do with the Canary birds – but it actually isn’t at all. The Canary islands were named after the Latin word for “dog” – and then the birds were named after the islands.

That definitely sounds like something that might come up in Trivia, so it’s worth remembering that one!

In Lanzarote, we decided to stay on the ship which was actually fantastic. I think a lot of people put pressure on themselves when they travel to see and do everything but sometimes the best days are the lazy ones.

Our ship docked far away from the town – around a 45 minutes walk away.

I’d been before and to be honest, I just wanted to enjoy a day by the pool.

I was making the most out of my included drinks and it’s a good thing I picked this day to spend by the pool because when we docked in Gibraltar they weren’t able to serve any alcohol which was odd!

I was really excited when we docked in Gibraltar. Gibraltar is an overseas territory owned by the UK.

If you are from the UK, visiting is really strange – In some ways, it’s very familiar, the traffic lights, the shops and the pedestrian crossings are all the same – but the weather is very different!

They also drive on the right instead of the left like we do in the UK.

My main aim for visiting Gibraltar was to find a monkey – and given that there are over 300 on the island I hoped that I would!

We walked to the cable car and took it up the side of the rock of Gibraltar. The views from the cable car were amazing, and I could see our ship in the distance.

It was quite busy going up, but coming down we pretty much had the whole cable car to ourselves – and yes I did find a monkey!

I kept my distance because the monkeys are known for stealing people’s things and jumping on their heads and I definitely didn’t want that to happen, it was fun to watch though.

There was a good mix of guests onboard our cruise. Most were from the UK, the US and across Europe. There were lots of different languages being spoken onboard but all of the main entertainment was in English. 

Bars and Lounges onboard

On the first day of the cruise, I saw the sports bar was not full. During our cruise, the World Cup Football (Soccer) tournament was on and they usually showed the games in this Sports bar, as well as at a few other bars.

I avoided the football – so maybe that’s why the ship felt so empty to me – everybody else was watching the game! 

We did enjoy sitting outside the sports bar at the buffet area at the back, I found a veggie burger here and the service was always fast. 

Speciality Meals

We did have a couple of speciality meals during our cruise, as part of the perks of my loyalty status with Norwegian.

I have to say I personally thought that the food in the main dining room was better, and as a vegetarian there was usually little choice, if any, in the speciality restaurants

Coming from a recent Azamara cruise, where I could get veggie sausages and burgers and pretend duck and even “fake steak” it was a bit disappointing- but I was prepared to be disappointed so it wasn’t surprising!

It was surprising, however, that the Thanksgiving main dining room menu didn’t even have a single veggie main course!

The staff were great though, and they were always happy to combine things from other dishes to make a meal and did whatever they could to help.

I was lucky the ship was quiet and they had time to go out of their way for me.

White Night!

This cruise was the first time ever that I actually had packed a white dress for White Night! Lots of cruise lines will have themed nights – and white is a very common one.

I managed to eat my dinner without spilling anything down my white dress – which was a miracle!

In Conclusion

I paid £642 for this 8-night cruise, based on two sharing a cabin. I took this cruise in November 2022. That price included Norwegian’s “Free at Sea” promotion which included gratuities and drinks.

That promotion was only £149 for 8 nights which considering that the drinks package is meant to be £109 PER DAY, I think we got our money’s worth!

That price didn’t include flights.

I only came away from the cruise with a bill for £25 and that was just a purchase I made to give away to my channel members and my usual £10 casino spend.

When I cruise I usually like to keep it under £100 per night. As I was able to keep it under that, including drinks, I was very happy!

When I asked at reception they said that the ship was only 75% full so I’m sure this is why they dropped the price, that and it being an older ship cruising out of season. 

I stayed in the cheapest inside cabin on the ship which was 9 feet wide and didn’t have any windows.

To find out what that was like and what I found most difficult about staying in the cabin (spoiler alert it wasn’t the darkness!) check out this video next: 

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